Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Being Digital"

"Being Digital" is a workshop I facilitated at the UOW LTC Showcase on 20/11/2014. "Flipping" can be a great deal more than flipping content, and on this occasion I used a simulation. So often we talk about "the future of digital" but what if we were in the future, and traveled back? I made this the question that underpinned the design of the learning space. Instead of teaching "how to use twitter" I created a sumulation in which twitter was used by those from 2044 entering a Holodeck with a wearable technology disc that gave them all they needed to know to understand the immersion.

"Being digital" LTC Showcase from Merilyn Childs

I took the role of an H-Connector (Hologram Connector) to animate the learning within the Holodeck.

I also used the following:

Orientation questions by H-Connect for all geo-social pods in the TechHistory Holodeck
Is everyone alright?
Just have a look around the room, and out the windows. What strikes you?
Let’s check your WT_Disc:
What are these?
What was “social media”?
Twitter? Hashtag?
What are your first impressions of what was called a “classroom” in 2014? #hackbeingdigital
Not all of you were given the same knowledge as everyone else (the digital divide). Let’s see what that looked like in 2014. (Note to H-Connects: this is a physical lickert scale exercise using the University of Exterter quiz (extracted from archives, see file WT_2014_12567  #hackbeingdigital

[WT= Wearable Technology. These discs are affixed, and all content therein is known immediately].

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Women as firefighters in Australia: how far have we come?
I've enjoyed a long history of involvement with the fire services, and with women and fire fighting, in Australia.  I was fortunate to win an Edna Ryan Award in 2005 for this work, Life Membership of the Women and Firefighting Australasia (WAFA) at the 2012 Conference, and in 2013 was successfully nominated by WAFA in the Diversity Category as one of the "100 Women of Influence" in Australia. 

Now and again something happens to inspire me to make comment, hence this post today. A number of triggers have happened. The first trigger was that @UN_Women tweeted the following story about a Bronx female firefighter who has become the first woman featured in FDNY Calendar of Heroes.The second trigger was the release of the Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review by the Australian Human Rights Commission, offering " indisputable evidence that pregnancy/return to work discrimination continues to be widespread and has a cost - not just to women, working parents and their families - but also to workplaces and the national economy,” she said (Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick). 

The third trigger is that I will I soon facilitate a plenary session at the biennial conference of WAFA. This event is significant to me personally and professionally. Nearly a decade has passed since I convened the first Women in Fire Fighting Conference in 2005, and eight years since I published Counting Women in the Australian Fire Services. As the WAFA Conference won't happen next year, for me the 2014 Conference is a significant milestone.

When the @UN_Women tweet first landed in my feed, I felt two simultaneous things. I felt tremendously proud of the achievements of Firefighter Danea Mines. I don't want to take away from her in any way. I also felt frustration and annoyance over three underlying issues that have nothing at all to do with Firefighter Mines. 

Firstly, it took 11 years for the NDNY to stop telling this firefighter, who is one of only a few female firefighters in this city, that the Calendar was for men only. Why was the media not gobsmacked about this ongoing evidence of sexism? Secondly, Firefighter Mines is referred to as "Miss March" by the Daily News, as if she is a winner of a beauty pageant. She deserves respect for her uniform! Thirdly, and most infuriating and complex, is the fact that firefighters continue to produce sexualised calendars portraying "hot and smoking" male firefighters- and presented in a way that finally, begrudgingly female firefighter has "made it" because she has joined calendar raunchiness. In no other proud uniformed or military service does this muscle-bound-hero-worshiping happen. It says to the world: to be a firefighter is to be buff young male and a hero. Melt. Swoon. 

I love the many firefighters I count as friends. I don't love aspects of firefighting culture that is at times misogynist, and continues to fall short of much needed cultural change. A modern fire services is about incredibly well trained fire fighters, making good decisions that aim to achieve no fatalities and no injuries. 

I don't love the persistent and continued use of firemen. Or phrases like you climb that ladder like a girl. I don't admire that I am supposed to be proud that one woman was allowed to make it. It's rubbish. 

In the Australian context, some important changes have happened recently. In 2014 the Department of Fire and Emergency Services in Western Australian released a brilliant campaign specific to women and Indigenous Australians. In NSW it is no longer unusual to see media images of female firefighters. 

We have grounds to be disappointed however. While the Australian Defence Force (ADF) partnered with the Human Rights Commission to investigate the treatment of women in it's ranks in 2012, we don't have a national picture of the treatment of women in the paid fire services [unlike the ADF fire services in Australia have state-by-state jurisdiction]. Like the ADF, military tribalism exists in the fire services. Unlike the ADF, this is not being studied, outed publicly, nor has a Commissioner come out, as Australia's Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison did when he said: If being civil toward female soldiers and respecting their contributions to the service does not suit you, "then get out." 

The fact is, no state jurisdiction has publicly reported the state of affairs of the treatment of female firefighters. We also lack insight, and a national picture, of the treatment of male fire fighters - for example, the experience of bullying regardless of gender.

We lack insight from the perspective of the inside of jurisdictions. What we do know from my early studies, and those more recently, that some female firefighters (paid, volunteer and retained) tolerate, put up with, sometimes endure, mistreatment, sexism, marginalization and trivialization rather than calling it out. It doesn't matter if only some women are poorly treated because of gender. It should be a zero tolerance situation. We don't know in 2014 how many; nor do we know what those experiences are like. We can't congratulate progress in the absence of this information. 

There are things we do know. Dr Christine Eriksen is currently doing great work looking at gender and fires. McLennan (2008) considered issues associated with gender and volunteers. A gender stream exists in Emergency Management Conference, and Tamika Sharad is doing a PhD at the University of South Australia focusing on a gendered analysis of work organisation and culture in Australian fire services. Branch-Smith & Pooley reported concerning the WA experience in 2010. Since 2005, research has been done - but it is disconnected, and fallen short of the creation of a connected body of knowledge, even after the Bushfire Research CRC became involved via the 2013 work of Tyler & Fairbrother.

It is possible to point to positive recruitment campaigns that attract female firefighters. It is possible to identify, through annual reports, that some fire services have successfully increased percentages of female firefighters, but also possible to see that last year the lack of female firefighters in the Northern Territory was creatively obscured in statistical reporting.

We should not feel grateful if the numbers of paid female firefighters are somewhere above 5%. We should congratulate those fire service agencies that have clearly tried to recruit more women by asking questions like: 

"What else can you do?"

 "How many of female firefighters have been promoted?"

 "What are you doing to ensure the next Commissioner, or the one after that, might be a distinguished female firefighter who made it through the ranks?" 

We should be asking "What message have you given to firefighters who treat women poorly, that they are not welcome in the fire services - that they are the problem?"

In 2006 I gave the keynote address to the 2nd Women in Fire Fighting Conference. I made a joke at the start of the keynote- I imagined it was 2016, and I had been called back from retirement, everything was changed, and I was there to celebrate the diversity of the fire services.

There are 2 years to go.

Badges for the 3Rs: Rebel, Resist, Rethink

In the weeks following former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s now famous “misogyny” speech on October 10th 2012, I asked a friend to design me a digital image that I could use to celebrate my contribution as a woman to public life. The image - let's call it a digital badge - in part showed solidarity with the Prime Minister, and in part validated my role as a woman making a feminist difference. Standing up, and shouting out, is part of a vibrant democracy. Resisting oppression, arguing and acting against racism and sexism, caring about social and environmental well-being are all valuable to democratic participation as are social protest, political rallies, unionism and other forms of social and industrial participation. Critical thinking of the non-compliance-rebellious-and-resistance-kind are as important to a just world as is compliance, obedience and alignment. Indeed, many Universities have validated these aspirations to build a better world as graduate qualities or attributes through notions of global citizenship

As #digitalbadges take their place in Higher Education, they have tended to focus on institutionally approved tasks, qualities and characteristics of ideal HE student learning, for example:

Or validating the ideal educator, for example, as under development by Robinson College of Business for Badges for Executive Education. I have no argument with these badges ecosystems per se. I do have a problem with what is being left out. What about a different badges ecosystem that validates skills and capabilities related to graduate qualities often touted by Universities, but taken from the angle of rebellion, resistance, rethinking and even revolution? [A word and idea now replaced by the much weaker and very popular "disruption" or "disruptive innovation"].

What about the student who "Asked Revolutionary Questions", or "Challenged Received Knowledge", "Championed Climate Sciences", "Acted With Humanity", "Made The Road By Walking", "Protested Food Insecurity" "Did Democracy", or quite simply: "Transgressed". [Or if one wanted to provide badges that might seriously reflect aspects of University experience you might award ones that really do prepare students for some workplaces: "Lived Beneath The Poverty Line Effectively" or "Un-Dauntingly Faced Casualisation".]

Many "critical thinking" badges have emerged since digital badges were popularised, often showing brains or  cogs as brains, lightbulbs. Here is the DeakinConnect critical thinking badge:
  • Critical thinking global learning objective icon Critical thinking - evaluating information using critical and analytical thinking and judgment.

What about "critical pedagogy"? Or even "progressive education" as described by Dewey? Critical-thinking-in-action. Education-for-social-action. For example, evidence of questioning injustice and doing something about it? As badges are designed, do they value evidence that might capture the untidiness of working on, rather than thinking about? Is there an implied set of approved contexts and actions? As badges are developed, what do they construct, what do they exclude? What is silenced?

What about badges that validate through evidence an academic who "Championed Casual Staff", "Fostered Radical Practice" (now there is an outdated idea), "Challenged Bullies", "Made a Feminist Difference", "Creatively Questioned Change", "Constructively Aligned to Social Justice", "Everyday Hero", "Listened", "Defended Democratic Processes" or "Humanised"?  Do we value these workplace actions, or take them for granted as the annoyingly necessary in an otherwise compliant world?

In a thought provoking article, after the shocking images of Abu Ghraib, Giroux (2004) asked "What Might Education Mean After Abu Ghraib: Revisiting Adorno’s Politics of Education?" He proposed that "As a political and moral practice, education must be engaged not only as one of the primary conditions for constructing political and moral agents, but also as a public pedagogy - produced in a range of sites and public spheres - that constitute cultural practice as a defining feature of any viable notion of politics, education after Abu Ghraib must imagine a future in which learning is inextricably connected to social change, the obligations of civic justice, and a notion of democracy in which peace, equality, compassion, and freedom are not limited to the nation state but extended to the international community" (pp.20-21). 

If this is the case, then #digitalbadges could be seen as a cultural practice "inextricably connected to social change, the obligations of civic justice, and a notion of democracy". This is not a nice and tidy space of compliance, but an argumentative space of resistance, socially just actions, critical thinking within/against, and acting against oppression. 

Protest badges - 1981 Springbok tour .
Putting a challenge out there to link #digitalbadges ecosystem
to social change, the obligations of civic justice, and to notions of democratic participation,
There is a whole world out there of protest badges that might inspire #digitalbadges of the non-scouting- model-type. Perhaps these might inspire a new way of thinking for validation of the socially non-compliant, the radical nay-sayers, the dialogue-builders, the rebellious-troublemakers, the-fighting-for-social-justice-huffers-and-puffers, the-civic-protesters. [Or the students using iPads because the lecturer is boring. Good choice! "Can Manage Boredom Creatively"]. So what do we value? How do we think society, universities and other workplaces really work? Is it through a mono-dimensional view of utility, or a dialectic that respects the tensions and contradictions that make all of us work daily on building a fair and equitable democracy? When we think about designing a badge, how do we design it's criteria, evidence and standards to ensure they are inclusive of actions at the margins, motivated by the 3Rs?
Some have tried to align badges with socially just learning, for example, the UTC Global Citizenship Program. The "Sustainable Agriculture" example above, also has co-curricular badges for learning. This example shows the positive use of badges for three levels of co-curricular volunteer community services learning - an interesting model, and depending on how it unfolds in practice, potentially an example of progressive education. (Although I am unsure why it is additional to mainstream study, and not part of, but that's another story).

I hope this post generates interest, action, and happy to collaborate.

[See the original 1966 Adorno article "Education After Auschwitz" upon which Giroux based his article.]
More about digital badges and here.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What is the future of Credit Transfer in Australian Universities in the era of private providers?
The Scan has reported analysis by Professor Leesa Wheelahan that “recent VET statistics shows that TAFE’s share of publicly funded in Australian students is now 55.6%. In Victoria TAFE’s share of publicly funded students has fallen to 37.4%, while in South Australia it has fallen to 52.3%.” Read the original Wheelahan post.

It’s my view that one of the important consequences of this decline will be the flow through effect on credit transfer arrangements between local TAFEs and Universities. I have argued previously that research indicates that the predominant model of Recognition of Prior Learning in Australia is via credit transfer. Although the Australian Qualification Framework provides a framework for credit transfer through identified levels of qualifications, in practice individual Universities have tended to develop pathways between local TAFEs and local University courses - or at least with providers of specific benefit to the institutions involved. This has been one way of marketing a course locally or internationally, as well as ensuring students who access these pathways are supported through transition programs. Many a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed to sustain these agreements. Dual-sector arrangements also exist within which credit transfer arrangements are fostered. At the good practice end of credit transfer arrangements, substantial educational partnerships have been fostered. For example, where TAFE-Uni pathways have been used as a social equity and inclusion strategy, see Hosken et al 2013Hosken et al 2013, and Ambrose et al 2013; or  where such relationships reflect a historic rural or regional partnership. 

Credit transfer arrangements are generally advertised on University websites, and some universities provide online searchable “credit banks” for students. For example, Charles Sturt University has developed comprehensive credit packagesfor TAFE students”, Griffith University provides a searchable Credit Precedent Database “for previous TAFE studies”, and the University of Newcastle provides a search tool, with arrangements with providers shown below.
University of Newcastle Credit Transfer Search Tool, July 2014
It’s common for Universities to provide information to TAFE students, such as the RMIT TAFE-RPL kit the USQ TAFE student’s page. In addition, many TAFEs have negotiated credit pathways for their students to individual Universities, such as TAFESA’s University Credit Pathways and Sydney TAFE’s Pathways to University. There are some Universities, like UNSW’s Credit Transfer search tool that only advertise packages that are university-to-university pathways, although UNSW Social Sciences Faculty does have TAFE-Uni packages and makes special mention of “TAFE Community Services Training Package”. In fact this refers to a training package approved by the National Register that can be offered by any training provider who has gone through the necessary processes to have it on their scope.

The growth of private providers means that specific arrangements such as these, as well as specific mention of “TAFE” will come under increasing pressure. The vocational sector has been reregulated through contestability for many years - indeed I wrote my PhD concerning the casualisation of the adult education labour market partly due to this re-regulation (2001). As Wheelahan points out, the infrastructure that once was TAFE is being destroyed. TAFE is now positioned as one competitor in the vocational marketplace, with increasingly lower market share. Some universities have made the shift to language that reflects the re-regulated vocational education sector. UTS for example, advertises a “VET entry pathway” that recognises a pathway “coming from a TAFE or private college”. CSU does provide credit arrangements for non-TAFE providers, with a search tool that allows students to access information concerning these pathways – although “TAFE” features largely.

Privileging “TAFE” is increasingly at odds with the rise of the private provider.  As I noted above, training packages on the National Register can be taught by approved providers, and “TAFE” as an institution is increasingly only one of these providers. The AQF, taken together with the contestability of the vocational market and its privatisation, means the future of credit transfer lies within mandated national qualification levels, rather than intimate or privileged TAFE-University pathways, even if Universities have yet to make this shift.
AQF Qualification levels, July 2014
The hesitancy Universities have shown in embracing RPL, including credit transfer may well return, as questions concerning the proliferation of private providers for profit in the vocational space surface. It won’t be possible to broker hundreds of credit transfer agreements, nor will it be possible to maintain a precedents data-based based on specific institutional arrangements. The focus will need to shift to guaranteed AQF pathways regardless of provider. This will be an interesting sector wide challenge. The commitments made to TAFE-Uni transitions, research concerning these transitions, and inter-institutional resources to support them, has slowly grown through careful work between TAFE and Universities. How will these commitments fare as TAFE declines and "teaching only" providers increasingly take market share. How will Universities shift to accept prior qualifications achieved via the National Register, regardless of provider, and outside the mandates of Memorandum of Understanding and locally grown and controlled arrangements? This question is one of many regarding credentialing in the digital age - in an open learning era; as a consequence of what Connell (2013) called "the neoliberal cascade"; the open education market, and the decimation of TAFE.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Honorary Doctorates as a Model of RPL in Australian Universities 
Recently, I wrote concerning the weak development of RPL in Higher Education the Australian context. I argued that "fence-sitting, and do-nothing abounds in response to growing evidence of open learning, digital badges, MOOCS, workplace learning, lifewide learning in terms of RPL" and that "it is as if a magic wand illuminates [new] approaches to evidence of learning outcomes once a student is enrolled [in a university course], but the light suddenly fades to grey if the same evidence was self-authored by a learner outside enrolment." I also argued that the emerging focus on aligned learning outcomes offers hope for a genuine shift of Universities towards credentialing of open and lifelong learning. 

In fact, Universities do have one important model of portfolio assessment whereby a person is able to be conferred with a qualification and attendant title without enrolling and completing formal studies. Over the years when I have been told that Universities don't have the capacity to assess portfolios, experience, or evidence-based learning as a basis of an award, I point out the model of the Honorary Doctorate.

The Honorary Doctorate is an award conferred by Universities on candidates that meet certain criteria. For example, the University of Southern Queensland indicates that the "purpose of an honorary doctorate award is to:
·         acknowledge distinguished and/or significant contribution to the University and or/community
·         acknowledge strong advocacy of, and contributions to, the ideals of the University
·         recognise outstanding scholarship and/or professional practice in one or more disciplines or professions.

Here are the policies of University of Sydney, University of South Australia, and the University of Victoria for the conferring of awards and other forms of recognition.The University of Western Australia indicates that the "primary purpose for conferring honorary degrees is to “give public recognition to individuals for outstanding achievements, either at the State level or beyond, in any recognised field of human endeavour, and that "reasons for awarding honorary degrees would normally include:
·         making a public statement about the values, positioning and importance of the University;
·         enlarging the University’s network of people of influence in the national and international communities;
·         developing support for the University in the community”.

The process for assessing an HD is fairly standard across the sector. As an example, at the University of New England, the process for awarding an HD is made up of
·         A proposal that is “first discussed with the Vice-Chancellor”.
·         Validation of the proposal by at least three Professors of the University.
·         Validation of proposals made on the grounds of distinguished public service by three full-time members of the Academic or General Staff of the University or a member of the Council.

Taken from an assessment of learning outcomes perspective, this model of assessment bases the awarding of the Honorary Doctorate on evidence (for example, reputation evidenced in the public domain, validated through nomination and recommendation), certain criteria that is validated (by the VC and senior academic staff). Typically a portfolio of evidence is not required in the formal sense. Dame Jane Goodall and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, for example, would not have been asked to submit an ePortfolio to evidence their graduate capabilities in order to be awarded their Honorary Doctorates. However, their life's work (the evidence) would have been packed together in a summative way, as they were considered for the award (the portfolio), then recommended and accepted (the validation). 

This process is very recognisable as an RPL process, for example as described by Christine Wihak (2012) when she described portfolio-based assessment for RPL purposes. In principle it varies little from guidelines for portfolio assessment of UG students, such as those developed by UNSW - except that the evidence is developed by the recipient of the award outside formal higher degree research studies. 

Universities clearly have the policy frameworks, model of assessment of evidence, and validation processes needed to confer a full award, albeit with the restrictions placed on an Honorary Doctorate, at the elite level of the institution. In terms of volume of learning, the assumption is made that the recipient of the award has earned the equivalent of an undergraduate and higher degree research (PhD) qualification, in order to receive the honorarium. In broad principle, the same head-space and willingness to value evidence gained outside the institution can be applied to other levels of qualifications. The issue here isn't whether or not Australian Universities have models of RPL, rather it is a lack of willingness to apply those models to the contexts of UG and PG course work studies. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Towards non-sexist teaching and learning, 1980; 2014

Hand drawn and typed, excerpt from "Towards Non-Sexist remediation", 1980
In 1980 , influenced by what were known as the McGrath-Hill Non-Sexist Guidelines, I completed a project to meet the requirements of a qualification I was doing at the time in teaching literacy in high schools. The project was called "Towards Non Sexist Remediation" and I have digitised the project, and uploaded to Flickr - which you can access here: "Towards Non Sexist Remediation". For those not born then - 1980 was pre-computers and the internet, and "cut and paste" meant "scissors and glue".  Personal and autodidactic, the artefact reflects an auto-biographical moment in my attempts to offer alternative representations of women and girls.

In 1974,  when the guidelines were published, Joan Beck asked in an article in the Chicago Tribute  "Will we ever change?" and hoped publishers would adopt "non-sexist language that makes sense". She commented on the (then) new guidelines by writing "The new editorial guidelines aren't really difficult. All you have to do is remember that women are people, too".

Recently in Australia, some have asked, as Beck did all those years ago, "will we ever change?" Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and departing Liberal Senator Sue Boyce have protested about sexism in the Australian parliament. Social media campaigns like #yesallwomen and #destroythejoint are active in questioning misogyny and sexism, but as Stevenson (2012) has pointed out in her analysis of Gillard's treatment, "Gillard's inability to fulfil acceptable political stereotypes and apparent transgressions of 'feminine' qualities caused a negative media backlash" (p. 55).Gretta Scacchi (2014) recently wrote: "As a feminist, I am dismayed a lot of the time, wondering where the struggle I felt I was engaged in has brought us."

Unlike Scacchi I am not "dismayed". I know that the aspirations I had as a young feminist in the 1980s have been punctuated at times by stiletto heels. But I also know that initiatives like the Ban Bossy- Encourage Girls to Lead project offer newly imagined visions for girls by new generations of young women. I don't know what Emmeline Pankhurst or Huda Sha`arawi would have thought of my small efforts in the 1980s. I do know that I joined a hum that echoes backwards and forwards in time, and constructed small but enduring moments of change. My tinkering in 1980 formed the basis for later work I did related to women and fire fighting in Australia. The struggle for equal rights endures, and as bell hooks argued, is characterised by the interconnectivity of race, capitalism and gender, and their combined ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. Were I to re-do my 1980 project in 2014, inclusivity would shift to include cultural competence, and I'd be more explicit about power relations and social disadvantage. We didn't have our analysis sewed up in the 1970s and 1980s, just as we still have a way to go. My use of the word "towards" in 1980 made sense then, and makes sense now. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The AQF and RPL in Australia
Recently a much tweeted article by The Guardian considered the question Will a degree made up of MOOCS ever be worth the paper it is written on? in response to the design of degrees offered by the University of The People. In the article, as a  side note, Laurillard was noted as thinking about approaching her university to allow a MOOC she was running to be granted "six credits" towards a Masters. Given the robust conversation about APEL in the UK, and the University of London's Policy on Accreditation of Prior Learning, it was disappointing to see credit considered as an after thought, rather than something embedded from the get-go in learning design.

In Australia, DeakinConnect (Humanitarian Responses to 21st Century Disasters) and UniTas (Understanding Dementia MOOC)  have both offered opportunities to students completing MOOCS to access credit in relationship to degrees. In the former case, students could pay a fee to have the MOOC accredited.  In the latter, students could gain value from the MOOC by enrolling in a Bachelor of Dementia Care, and "trade in" MOOC learning for the subject Negotiated Study in Understanding Dementia.

Although DeakinConnect and UniTas did think about providing opportunities to students completing MOOCS to gain credit, this has been achieved at the expense of their own RPL policies. Deakin, for example, has a comprehensive credit and RPL policy and uses Credly.  Under this policy a student may well have been able to present prior learning, including the MOOC, to gain advanced standing in a degree. For no cost, and potentially gaining much more than 1 costly subject. The UniTas Policy is much harder to find, as is their application form. But again, they are required to comply with the AQF in terms of RPL and credit.

The AQF and RPL in Australia, pre 2013
I have written about the Recognition of Prior Learning in Australia now for a decade, along with co-travellers like Tim Pitman, Tricia Fox and Ros Cameron. Website information about RPL policy has improved since the audit I lead in 2002, but we've seen the original AQF RPL Guidelines come and go, with little change happening in practice. Although Higher Education increasingly talks about aligned learning outcomes, work-integrated learning, capstones, evidence, eportfolios and authentic assessments, a disconnect remains when a student enrols at a University bringing all these kinds of learning with them. Frustratingly, learning and teaching discourse maintains an underlying fiction that mitigates against considerations of the final capstone experience, for example, as taking place in the first or second semester. Rarely do we consider a degree as a professional learning adventure - or intervention - in an adult's complex life. Rather it is still considered as a pre-employment "employability" endeavour. Despite this, I believe we are now in a time when a genuinely RPL conversation might become possible in Australia.

The AQF and RPL in Australia, 2013 onwards
The AQF (2013), like it's predecessors defined RPL and credit transfer, and importantly volume of learning provided parameters for  flexibility. Emphasis is placed on "provider decisions about the duration of the delivery of a qualification" but these " must take into account the students’ likelihood of successfully achieving the learning outcomes and ensure that integrity of the qualification outcomes is maintained. If the duration of delivery is substantially different from the volume of learning allocated to the qualification, providers should be able to provide pedagogical rationale to support the variation" [emphasis added].

Applied in delivery, "the duration may be reduced for individual students if credit towards the qualification is given in the form of credit transfer, recognition of prior learning or advanced standing." The University of Newcastle talks about it this way: Volume of Learning and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL): "A key issue in the AQF is the volume of learning completed by a student at the end of a degree. This also means the volume of learning the student has on entry is important".

The AQF suggests the following RPL assessment criteria. Assessment:
  • should include reasonable adjustment for the literacy levels, cultural background and experiences of students but should not be a proxy for the assessment of skills such as literacy except where these are intrinsic to the learning outcomes of the qualification component
  • should address  the specific evidence required to demonstrate prior achievement of the learning outcomes and assessment requirements of the particular qualification components for which credit is sought 
  • should provide a range of ways for individuals to demonstrate that they have met the required outcomes and can be granted credit.
Does the AQF mandate % limits on RPL?
The short answer is: no. But it is a complex "no". Firstly, TEQSA makes specific comment on it's expectations of the implementation of the AQF as it pertains to RPL. In essence it states that "all students should start a course with a sufficient basis of prior knowledge and skills to achieve the course learning outcomes and the learning outcomes for the AQF level in the time available in the course". The AQF gives guidelines concerning the design of courses at different levels, and the characteristics of those levels. It also provides an explanation of RPLSecondly, in theory it should be possible for a student to achieve an UG award through prior learning, given all the AQF requirements line up. However, in practice the sector does not allow this: it is standard that no more than 66% of an UG and 50% of a PG award can be gained via RPL. Students who gain entry to a PG award, based on evidence for alternative entry, are in effect being given 100% RPL, without being given an award. Thirdly, universities wish to protect their brand by ensuring that a graduate is a "CSU graduate" or a "UOW graduate" or a "MQ graduate" and to do this the view is that they must enrol in subjects, and study them in the normal way.

The underpinning principles and resulting practices of projects like Assuring Learning, or the Capstone Curriculum Project vibrate to the core with the principles and practices of RPL. The more the sector talks about course learning outcomes (CLOs), assuring learning, assessment, authenticity and evidence, the more likely RPL is to flourish. I am placing great hopes on the Assuring Graduate Capabilities Project and Beverley Oliver's work on digital credentialing as one more space in which RPL may become enabled in the Australian context, and that RPL is embedded, rather than bolted on as an afterthought or marginalized as a tick-a-box in AFQ compliance.

To return to where I began: a degree "made up of MOOCS" would not actually be possible in Australia at this time, so the question about it's worth or otherwise is a moot point. I recently tweeted, as part of the #OLT2014 conversation that we need to shift attention away from courses, micro-credentials, MOOCS and badges towards a student's learning journey. A focus on CLOs allows this focus to be actioned.

Much is made of the disruption caused by the digital age to Higher Education. Yet fence-sitting, and do-nothing abounds in response to growing evidence of open learning, digital badges, MOOCS, workplace learning, lifewide learning in terms of RPL. It is as if a magic wand illuminates all these approaches to evidence of learning outcomes once a student is enrolled, but the light suddenly fades to grey if the same evidence was self-authored by a learner outside enrolment. Credentialing evidence of learning is a creative pedagogical challenge. I hope before my career ends, that somewhere in Australia it becomes possible for a student to achieve a degree through evidence. [OERu may aim to achieve this outcome, but AQF policy enables it already in the Australian context]. For such an outcome, enlightened and visionary work is needed, from policy, systems and cultural attitudes through to assessments. RPL should not ask more of a learner than the volume of learning, and evidence of learning outcomes, required through study. Old practices such as over-assessment for RPL, onerous single-subject-by-single-subject interrogation, and downgrading of and contempt for learning outcomes/evidence achieved through work or social engagement, need to fade into memory. MOOCS, digital badges and other open learning opportunities can be contextualized within a learner's story, rather than accredited as stand-alone and undervalued micro-credentials in relationship to single subjects. Our focus needs to embrace learning journeys and evidence of learning outcomes, in addition to credit transfer. It's time RPL came out of the "too hard" basket.

Presentation to Digital Futures in Higher Education conference November 2012 from Merilyn Childs [Dr Merilyn Childs is now Associate Professor at the University of Wollongong].

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Towards a ‘good life’ for children in their middle years

National Children's Home - children learning to play instruments
The Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER) has just announced a new study into the well-being of children in their middle years. The project leader, Dr Petra Lietz, reported that:
While there is a growing interest in Australian children’s wellbeing in their middle years, less is known about how wellbeing varies among different groups of children. If policies to promote children’s wellbeing are to be implemented, then policymakers need to know how children in general, and disadvantaged children in particular, understand and rate their own wellbeing.To fill that knowledge gap, a team of researchers at Flinders University of South Australia, the University of New South Wales, and the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) are collaborating on a new child-centred study in which children’s perspectives are being used to design and conduct Australia’s first major nationally representative and internationally comparable survey of wellbeing among children aged eight to 14 years.
 The design of the study is reported to be innovative, as "children were given the chance to comment on all aspects of the questions, response scales and interactive design during interviews that preceded the field trial, the survey truly is designed ‘by children, for children’.

I find this kind of study very moving. A friend of mine, Robert Sayers, recently launched his biography, called Reflections, which is "a true story of anguish, heartbreak and determination (that is) told through the eyes of the eldest of three young brothers (who had) lived a bleak existence in post war England in the nineteen fifties (and then) unknowingly sent to a strange new country, as child migrants." Robert attended the apology made to forgotten people and former child migrants held in Canberra on November 16th, 2009. More recently, we have listened to stories of courage and anguish by those giving evidence to the Royal Commission to Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Unprotected child migrants, forced removal of Aboriginal children (the Stolen Generations), and forced adoption of children born to unwed mothers were harmed by institutions throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

We need to understand as much as we can about children's wellbeing to ensure that the practices of earlier generations are never repeated. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The visceral nature of memory

Items I packed, ready to evacuate.

On Thursday 17th October 200 homes were burned in a fierce bushfire close to my home in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia. In the days that followed, the community in which I lived was on "watch and act" or "emergency" alerts, depending on fire behaviour and it's threat to houses. On Wednesday 23rd October the fire threat was seen as dire, and many of the residents of the Blue Mountains evacuated. As I write, water bombing helicopters continue to hover in the valley 5 km away, keeping fires in containment lines, with firefighters deployed on the ground.

Leading up to Wednesday 23rd October, residents were encourage to enact a Bush Fire Survival Plan.
Part of this plan involves making a decision about what to pack, ready to evacuate, and it is this experience that I found moving as well as odd. As a self-confessed "digital adventurer", all my photographs have long been scanned onto an external drive, and many live in the clouds. So too are my devices backed-up routinely - so there is no danger of losing memories or work if my house burned down. Yet as the threat of fire approached I found myself packing the original copies of photographs that I had kept in boxes since scanning; and the thought of leaving them behind was painful and ultimately impossible. Along they came in the boot of the car, along with changes of clothes, hard copies of women in firefighting archives, important documents, other personal items and the cats.

A quote from Milan Kundera came to mind (used in another context) that the struggle of man against power is "the struggle of memory against forgetting", and this phrase kept running through my mind as I packed the car in the hours leading up to the emergency call for evacuation, which came at about 2pm that afternoon. Although memory can be digitised - I came to reflect - so too is it visceral and corporeal. I had  recorded my images digitally, and these have great meaning for me. But so too was meaning created in the rituals vested in photographs in a box, that once I sorted and scanned and tied with ribbons, that had since accumulated dust. The boxes were, I came to understand, perhaps unexpectedly a foundation for my sense of self and place, of my struggle against forgetting.

Dialogue about blended learning

Visit a project I built using Wix in 2010 where colleagues and I explore the meaning of "blended learning"